SCENARIO: Your package holiday has been cancelled by the company
“You’re entitled to a refund if the company cancels your holiday before you go,” explains the team from Citizens Advice. “You might also get compensation unless there are unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances – like a natural disaster. If not enough people have booked on the trip, then the company is also obliged to tell you beforehand that the trip won’t go ahead. They must also give you the right amount of notice before cancelling.” Generally speaking, if the package holiday is cancelled as a result of coronavirus restrictions changing, you’re entitled to a full refund within 14 days.
SCENARIO: You booked everything yourself & every party has cancelled your reservation
“It’s harder to get compensation if you organised the holiday yourself, because it’s likely that you’ll have different contracts with different companies – for example, hotels, airlines and travel agents,” explains Citizens Advice. “If those companies are based abroad, you won’t be protected by UK law and your rights could be completely different. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t try. You should raise the issue as soon as you can and keep evidence – like receipts for expenses. Most companies will have a complaints procedure that you can go through, so you might get some compensation.”
SCENARIO: The flight operator has cancelled the entire flight
“With most cancelled flights, you're due a full refund within seven days,” explains Petar Lwkarski from Money Saving Expert. “Most cancelled flights will fall under flight delay rules (which have been written into UK law, and cover all flights leaving the UK or EU, as well as flights to the UK/EU on a UK/EU airline). These state you're entitled to choose between a refund for the flight that was cancelled or an alternative flight (airlines call this ‘re-routing’) to your destination.
“Some airlines are pushing customers towards getting a voucher instead, but you are absolutely entitled to a refund in this situation. In theory and according to the law, this should also be paid in seven days, though aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has acknowledged it was very challenging for airlines to sort it that quickly at the height of the pandemic. While refund backlogs should now have been cleared, refunds may still take longer in the future if restrictions suddenly change and there's a spate of cancellations.”
SCENARIO: The flight operator has only cancelled one leg of the trip
“The standard flight cancellation rules (which have now been written into UK law) state that if your flight is cancelled you are entitled to choose between a full refund or an alternative flight,” reiterates Petar. “If you've booked a specific return deal with the same airline and one leg is cancelled, you would expect a refund for both parts. However, some say they've struggled to get refunds, and it may be because some budget airlines don't consider it a return flight but two individual flights.
“There's no easy answer here, but here’s a provisional list of what to try. Get in touch with the airline. Before things get militant, you may just find you're pushing at an open door – we have certainly heard of a few (but not many so far) refunds in these circumstances. If softly-softly fails, you can make an official complaint and demand a refund. You may also be able to escalate your complaint to an alternative dispute resolution service – most are free to use, though double-check first as some may charge fees.
“Finally, if you've no luck speaking to the airline and you paid by debit or credit card, you could try and get a refund from your bank or card provider under the chargeback scheme, or Section 75 legal protection if you paid £100+ on a credit card. (Though while it's rare, after that the airline can dispute this and push for the money back – so don't think once it's in your account it's done and dusted.) If you booked the flights before the pandemic and had travel insurance in place then, speak to your insurer. You may be able to claim (assuming your policy covered pandemic cancellations), as clearly an unusable return flight is a knock-on cost.”
SCENARIO: The border has suddenly closed
It might be the case that your flight and hotel are upholding your booking, but it’s all null and void because the border has suddenly slammed shut. “If your trip is still going ahead and you can leave your region, but the destination you're going to won't let you in, then you're also at the mercy of your travel provider – so check its cancellation policy to see if it'll refund you,” advises Petar. “The Package Travel Regulations state if "unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances" occur which "significantly affect the performance of the package," you're due a full refund even if you cancel. So, this may offer some protection if you can't get to your destination.”
It’s also worth noting package holiday firms should refund you if there's a Foreign Office warning. “If a Foreign Office warning is put in place under the Package Travel Regulations, you should be able to get a refund within 14 days – even if the trip's not been cancelled – though always check first with the firm before you cancel. This isn't the case with DIY trips where you've booked hotels and flights separately. In that situation you can still try asking the companies concerned for a refund, but you don't have the same legal protection or rights.”
Also, remember that if you travel when there is a Foreign Office warning, most travel insurance becomes totally invalid. This applies even for non-Covid issues, as the whole policy is usually invalid.
SCENARIO: Your destination is now asking you to quarantine
“If the country you're going to insists you must quarantine for a certain amount of time on arrival, it's unlikely that airlines or hotels will offer a refund if they're open and running services,” warns Petar. “You also won't be able to use credit or debit card protection, because the service is still available. However, if you've booked a package holiday, you may be able to get a refund from the travel firm. Where the destination country puts a mandatory quarantine in place for all arrivals, this could be considered a 'significant change' to your holiday. Package travel association ABTA says travel companies should offer an alternative or a full refund in those circumstances.”
SCENARIO: Lockdown rules in your own country have changed
“General guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) states that you should get a full refund if it would be illegal for you to use a booking, for example, if there's a full lockdown or 'stay at home' directive in place,” says Petar. “Yet, this isn't a definitive interpretation of the law, and the CMA has been investigating travel firms that only seem to offer vouchers in this scenario – so getting a refund may not always be plain sailing. Plus, if you've got flights that start in other countries, or hotels booked there, you're at the mercy of your travel provider and the country it's governed by.”
SCENARIO: Smaller suppliers are cancelling
“With other travel bookings (hotels, car hire etc), the rules are less clear cut, but you should still get a refund,” says Petar. “Generally, if the service you have booked isn't provided, you should be refunded – and that's a principle the UK competition watchdog has clearly supported. Enforcing it may be tricky though, especially if the firm is abroad where local laws may be different to those in the UK – so there are no guarantees.”
SCENARIO: Your holiday provider has gone bust
"If you book a package holiday with a UK-based firm (where you buy multiple parts of a holiday, e.g. flights and hotel, from one company or website, in one transaction) then you won’t lose any money as long as the company was Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) protected,” explains the team from Money Helper. “Generally, flights booked directly with an airline and some flight-only bookings with your tour operator will not be protected unless you have received an ATOL-protected certificate with your booking.”
If you booked a DIY holiday, or it’s not UK-based, you probably won’t have ATOL protection. “Unfortunately, your travel insurance policy may not cover you if your holiday provider goes bust, but it’s still worth checking the terms of your cover. However, if you paid for your holiday by credit card then you may be able to get your money back from your credit card provider.”
It’s also worth knowing the government and the Air Travel Trust will protect credit note refunds issued since 10th March 2020 for ATOL-protected bookings that were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning those who accept them will get their money back if the travel firm goes bust.
SCENARIO: Your trip gets cancelled midway through
If you're abroad for longer than planned due to your return journey being disrupted by travel bans, insurers often claim your cover will be extended. “While this means you'll continue to be covered under the usual terms of your insurance – so for example, you should be able to claim for emergency medical expenses – insurers we spoke to said you won't be covered for extra costs incurred by having to stay longer, such as extra accommodation or travel,” warns Petar. “It's still worth checking with your insurer – but most policies won't cover you for coronavirus-related cancellation if you took out the insurance and booked your trip after mid-March 2020. As insurance only covers unknown events, that's the period most classed the pandemic as a 'known event'.”
SCENARIO: The travel firm is trying to charge you a hefty cancellation fee
“We've heard from MoneySavers who have had 'cancellation charges' of up to £75 per person taken off their refunds by their travel agent after an airline or package holiday firm has cancelled their trip,” admits Petar. “Travel agents' association ABTA says agents are allowed to do this, as long as this is included in their T&Cs – so if in doubt, check what you agreed to when you booked. Just note that tour operators and airlines can't charge you a cancellation fee if you booked direct, so if this happens, make sure you demand a refund in full.”
SCENARIO: You just change your mind
“If you are still permitted to go on your holiday under official restrictions and guidance, it's important to understand you don't have any automatic right to a refund if you choose not to go,” warns Petar. “If your holiday's still on or the hotel's still open, your refund rights will simply depend on the terms and conditions you agreed to when you booked. Of course, these may still let you cancel for free or move your trip, and some firms are also offering extra flexibility to all their customers at the moment due to coronavirus, so it's still worth checking what your options are.”
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.